By Andrew Ehrkamp
News Editor

St. Francis Xavier parishioners in Camrose are one step closer to a new and bigger church.

Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Bittman will bless the site during a groundbreaking ceremony for the $17-million, 35,000-square-foot parish centre on May 23 at 1:30 p.m.

“We’re pretty excited here,” said Keith Elliott, vice-chairman of the St. Francis Xavier Parish building committee. “It’s been 19 years of starts and stops, but we’re finally going to get this done. People can’t believe it.”

When the new parish centre is completed, it will be a personal fulfillment for Rev. Larry Pederson, the pastor.

St. Francis Xavier was his home parish as a child. He was ordained at the church on May 25, 1968. And the new parish centre is expected to open in late 2018, Pederson’s 50th year as a priest.

“It’s a tremendous step in the spiritual journey of the parish,” Pederson said. “We have a very dedicated and steadfast group of committee members who want to see the parish centre completed.”

Elliott said parishioners have been talking about building a new church for years, but it’s only been in the last six – under Pederson’s leadership – that it’s really taken off.

“One of Father Larry’s jobs when he came here was to get this job done.”

Pederson said St. Francis Xavier is growing at about two per cent each year, as young families join the parish and retiring seniors move to Camrose from rural Alberta.

The new parish centre – two kilometres south of the existing church, and nearly three times as big – will be built on six acres. It will have new meeting rooms. The nave will accommodate 600 people. The hall can seat 360 people at tables or 500 people in theatre style. It will be fully accessible and equipped with the technology for multimedia presentations.

The new parish centre will also pay special homage to its namesake.

Stained glass windows will reflect the life of St. Francis Xavier and his evangelization throughout Asia. One of the windows will feature St. Kateri, and an aboriginal chief in honour of the Jesuits – St. Francis Xavier’s religious order – in North America.

Pederson, who has worked with stained glass in his spare time for more than 40 years, took a personal interest in the windows.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to bring my liturgical and theological knowledge and experience into the design,” he said.

The granite for the new church’s baptismal font will be imported from Madagascar and the chapel will be in the shape of a lantern, a nod to St. Francis Xavier’s mission to Japan.

The cost of the new parish centre is just over $17 million. The parish has raised $5 million and the Archdiocese of Edmonton has extended the parish a $12-million line of credit.

The current church building, at more than 50 years old, will be sold.

For more information, visit the parish website at http://stfx.church.